Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania
If you prefer the road less traveled, then I have just the place for you: the Kagera region of Tanzania!
You may not have heard of Kagera – even though it’s exceptionally beautiful, and the people here are especially friendly – as it’s not part of the Tanzanian tourist circuit. And that’s precisely what makes it ideal for those of us who prefer to explore places off the beaten track! Kagera is tucked away on the western side of Lake Victoria. The region is bordered by Uganda to the north, and Rwanda and Burundi to the west, and it takes a 20+ hour bus ride (or two flights) to get here from Dar es Salaam. I’ve come here in my capacity as a Fellow to visit Kiva borrower Gration  and his project partner Daeni in the town of Muleba, as well as Andy  in the town of Ngara. They both obtained Kiva loans earlier this year to purchase solar power products from Kiva’s partner, Barefoot Power . The time I’ve spent with them and their Wata na Nuru (Light for the People) teams, resellers, and solar clients has been truly remarkable. You see, I am here to work!
I’ve long been fascinated by solar power, so I’m thrilled by the opportunity this Kiva fellowship has afforded to see firsthand the impacts and challenges of providing solar lighting in rural Tanzania. And I’m looking forward to sharing these Barefoot Power updates with you when I get back to an area with sufficient internet speed to upload the blogs… Meanwhile, here’s a photo journal of my favorite (non-work) experiences in Kagera over the past two weeks:
1. The dawn chorus of songbirds in a beautiful garden in Bukoba. The birdlife is prolific here; the garden in this video  reminds me of the home where I grew up in Zimbabwe; and Bukoba (Tanzania’s second-largest port on Lake Victoria) is a breath of fresh air after my last nine hot and sweaty weeks in Dar es Salaam. What an uplifting way to start the day!
2. Expansive views of Lake Victoria. It’s called Lweru (The Big White) by the Haya people of this area, and as soon as I saw the lake I knew why. This is an area of vast panoramas and glorious open skies! The shoreline of the lake is dotted with granite outcrops, and the surrounding landscape is lush with green grass (good grazing for the heavy-horned cattle in this video! ) and trees, thanks to plentiful rainfall and the rich red soil.
3. A frenzy of activity as 450 donated bikes – recently arrived in a container from Switzerland – are reassembled and prepped for sale. Daeni is involved at this bicycle center in remote Nshamba, where youngsters learn the skills of a bicycle fundi (expert). I’m delighted to see the Tanzanian side of this project, because I’m familiar with the donor side of a similar project in my hometown in Canada.
4. Kagera isn’t called the banana capital of Tanzania for nothing… Banana plants grow everywhere! Matoke (plantains, or cooking bananas) are the staple food here, usually eaten with maharage (beans). The bananas we eat start growing from tiny yellow flowers – initially the size of your thumb nail – hidden under the dark reddish bracts of a large inflorescence known as the banana heart.
5. My hilarious bus ride from Muleba to Ngara! It rains. The bus leaks. I am drenched from head to foot! I balance my little daypack on my knee as water pours down upon me for several hours, relieved that my laptop and camera – the tools of my trade these days – are sealed in a waterproof bag. I’m sorry when the kid sitting snugly next to me gets off at his stop; I was grateful for his warmth… And just for the record: I’m beginning to think a ticket agents’ assessment that “it will take 3 hours” is an optimistic way of saying “a long time, maybe even 6 hours”!
6. Wandering for hours along a ridge at Murgwanza that overlooks the Tanzanian border with Rwanda. I’m drawn onward by the tantalizing views from the next rocky outcrop, and the possibility of finding another flame lily swaying in the breeze. The sounds of distant voices, wood chopping, and the occasional cock-crow drift up to me from the valley below, and mingle with the low buzz of insects and melodious bursts of birdsong. The African bush is so alive! Goat herders on the next hillside call mzungu! (the friendly Kiswahili term for foreigner) to catch my attention, and wave. Could I be any happier?
7. The harmonious singing voices of a church congregation in Murgwanza stop me in my tracks as I’m passing by. (The picture quality in this video  is poor, so just close your eyes and listen, and you’ll hear birds trilling joyfully too!)
8. A vibrant market operates under cover of huge white UNHCR tents that have been repurposed in downtown Ngara. The tents are remnants of the refugee crisis in Kagera that was caused by the Rwanda genocide in 1994. It’s impossible for me to reconcile the idea of such horror with the normal daily life and tranquility I see around me now.
9. My 9-hour bus ride through Karagwe region. Since there are no direct buses for the next 3 days, I’m advised to take a bus from Ngara to Karagwe (it’ll take 3 hours!), from where I can get onward transport to Bukoba. I arrive at the bus stand before dawn to get a window seat. The bus fills rapidly (and I do mean fills…), and we set off close to schedule but lose time as we inch our way through the mist and up the steep hills. The man wedged in next to me buys water at our first stop and downs more pills than I’ve ever seen in one dose; I wonder sadly if he’s one of the many people here infected with HIV/AIDS. (I’ve visited a sewing class at one organization that cares for 1800 orphans, and met a worker from another that cares for 3700. The numbers overwhelm me.)
Then the bus halts at a barrier and a man with an automatic rifle, (I recognize it as an AK47; I grew up during the war in Zimbabwe), climbs in next to the driver. My neighbor explains this is our escort, but I’m a bit disconcerted and text a message to Andy in Ngara in case this all ends badly… He replies that an armed escort on this route is normal… I’m still feeling pensive when suddenly there’s great excitement on the bus: Twiga, twiga! Someone’s seen giraffe, and we all scan the bush eagerly for a glimpse! I snap a couple of photos, and pass my camera around. My fellow passengers laugh happily at our good fortune, and my mood lightens! I can face the rest of this 9-hour bus journey with equanimity now.
10. Young girls are delighted by their new dresses for Christmas! I think the dressmaker is equally pleased. Entrepreneurship is visible everywhere I go – this woman set up shop in front of her house, in the midst of a banana plantation. And she’s doing a roaring trade as the festive season approaches!
And finally: The unlikely Kiva connection. Yesterday I chatted with a charming woman at Bukoba airport as we waited in vain for our flight – the runway too muddy for the incoming plane to land. We met again today, and I showed my new friend the Tanzanian content on Kiva website. Imagine my surprise and delight when we scrolled through the last Update I posted about Tanzania,  and she exclaimed “I know her! That woman is an excellent baker!” Who’d have thought there would be a connection way out here in Kagera? It’s a small world, thanks to Kiva!
Barefoot Power loans in Tanzania also went to Martin in Dodoma , and Clive in Moshi . That’s were my travels as a Kiva Fellow  take me next! No Barefoot Power loans in Tanzania are currently fundraising on Kiva, but each month you can find loans posted by Tujijenge Tanzania .